St. Mary's Law Journal


St. Mary's University School of Law


The doctrine of res ipsa loquitor infers negligence from the physical cause of an accident and eliminates the necessity of determining with certainty the responsible human cause. Specifically, in Texas, res ipsa loquitor means that the facts of an occurrence warrant an inference of negligence, that they furnish circumstantial evidence in the absence of direct negligence, and that the facts call for an explanation or rebuttal. Each state applies the doctrine differently and the outcome of each case is dependent on the procedural effect. Generally, invoking the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor may result in either of two procedural effects: a legal presumption or a permissible inference. Texas courts subscribe to the permissible inference approach, which permits the jury to draw a reasonable inference of negligence and forces the defendant to rebut that inference. The element of superior knowledge on the part of the defendant should be independently considered by the courts. Inconsistencies among case law illustrate the need for expressly considering the element of superior knowledge before deciding whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor should be applied. In an effort to embrace consistency and uniformity, courts should apply the following test in all negligence cases before invoking res ipsa loquitor: (1) whether the agency or instrumentality was in control of the defendant at the time of the negligence; (2) whether the incident was of a type that does not generally happen in the absence of negligence; (3) whether the defendant had or should have had superior knowledge; and (4) whether the plaintiff contributed to the cause of the accident. When the test for determining whether to apply the doctrine consists of the four elements above, the intended purpose of the rule of res ipsa loquitor will be advanced.

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